PORTLAND, Maine — Apple CEO Steve Jobs made his first visit Monday to the state where schools are implementing a vision he shares with Maine Gov. Angus King: a laptop computer for every student.

Joining Jobs and King as they promoted the program to provide 33,000 Apple iBooks computers to seventh- and eighth-graders were pupils who received laptops this spring at nine demonstration schools.

King slapped hands with one of the pupils before announcing that the program is “exceeding my inflated expectations.”

The event came against the backdrop of a hard-fought battle in the Legislature to keep funding for the program. The state is facing another $180 million deficit, but the laptop funding is secure for the time being.

“I’m here to report on the progress of the largest educational technology project in the history of the world, here in the state of Maine, and it hasn’t been easy, has it?” the governor said.

The Apple chief executive, who was invited to visit Maine before the latest budget problems, said that by replacing computer labs with much-needed classroom space, schools that provide laptops could actually save money.

But his remarks focused on benefits that are harder to quantify, noting that the laptops, their video capabilities in particular, have empowered kids and gotten them excited about learning, Jobs said. “Because this is their medium, they are putting 10 times more time into the creation of self-expression,” he said.

Before Jobs’ speech, seventh-graders from the Maine demonstration schools showed off work from their white iBooks, including video poems and parts of a video documentary about the changing face of Maine industry.

This fall, the laptops will be distributed to all seventh-graders statewide. All seventh- and eighth-graders – 33,000 in all – will have them the following year. In addition, 3,000 teachers will have them.

The program, which has been championed by King, has already survived legislative attempts to divert money elsewhere. But with another state revenue shortfall looming, King acknowledged that laptop funds might again be targeted during a special legislative session.

“The fact is that the program is now going to have to prove itself, and I think that it will,” he said.

King warned that the total cost of voiding Apple’s four-year contract could approach the $37.2 million value of the contract. In addition to iBooks, the contract includes wireless networks, technical support, maintenance and warranties.

The computers will be the property of schools, which will decide whether they must remain on school grounds or whether they can go home with pupils.

King has said previously that Apple in effect provided a $15 million contribution to the program by providing the laptops, networking and support at a discount.

Jobs agreed that the contract to provide computers to Maine pupils “was one that we decided we just couldn’t lose.”